Whelk Fisheries

Current projects

Whelk Fisheries Data Collection

National and EU legislation will soon require the burden of proof to show that fisheries are NOT having a negative impact on fish stocks or the environment.

As data for fisheries in Welsh waters are comparatively data poor, there are some serious implications for current fishing practices. Our project aims to collect some spatially relevant data on the whelk fishery so that the fishery can continue into the future in a fair and sustainable way. Engagement with industry is vital. With the joint effort of scientists and fishers working together, this project has the best chance of producing representative data for a future stock analysis. This project will provide the industry with the data it needs to respond to, and partake in the management process.

Fish with a scientific pot!

Image: Whelk pot – Jodie Haig

We aim to provide fishers with two scientific whelk pots. Once a month we will collect the contents of a day’s fishing from these two pots along with a short, easy to fill out data sheet. For the remainder of the month the fisher will be able to fish the scientific pots as part of their gear.

Whelk Tagging

Image: An example of the tags that have been trialed on whelks – Jodie Haig

This summer (2014) around 16,000 whelks were tagged off Swansea and in North Wales. This was part of two masters projects to estimate local whelk abundance, short term movment and fisheries statistics. Data is still coming in and the masters theses should be available on our website soon!

For more information about this research contact:
Dr Jodie Haig
01248 382606


This fishery supports 100 fishermen, and Whelks are the third most valuable species landed in Wales (£2,536,863 annually).  Over the past 20 years the fishery has grown rapidly through increasing demand from commercial markets in Asia. They are collected using baited pots.

Species Ecology

The common whelk (Buccinum undatum)

The common whelk (Buccinum undatum) is a large whelk that can grow up to 10 cm high and 6 cm wide. The shell is yellowish brown in colour and has 7-8 whorls.

Habitat & Distribution

Common whelks are found on sand, sandy mud or stony bottoms from below the tide line to a depth of 100m. These species are common in the North Sea and other shelf seas surrounding the North Atlantic Ocean. Their southern boundary is Brittany and northern boundary is into the Arctic region. Common whelks are active predators that mostly feed on live polychaete worms and bivalves. They extract the flesh of bivalves by either using their own shell to pry open the bivalve shell or by drilling holes into the shell.

Life Cycle

This species reaches sexual maturity at 5-7 years and breeding takes place from October to May. The eggs produced are attached to rocks, shells and stones in protective capsules. Each capsule contains as many as 1000 eggs, and many female’s egg capsules can be grouped together in groups of over 2000. After several months, crawling young emerge from the capsules. Common whelks are believed to live for 10 years. They may be confused with the red whelk (Neptunea antiqua), but the red whelk does not have the coarse ribbing that the common whelk has and is not edible.